NOB HILL--Several years ago we redid our backyard with an eye towards raising more of our own food. Since I have trouble working at ground level the first thing I did was to make raised beds. The beds, made out of 2x12 rough-cut lumber, are 24 inches high with an extra 2x4 on top which serves as a kind of seat. They were built bottomless and lined with black plastic.
But the real secret to their success was that I built each one so that an existing sprinkler head was within each bed. Then I unscrewed the sprinkler and installed a two-foot piece of pipe in its place. I added a 12-port hub and thus was able to water every bed (and even every plant) automatically with drip lines when the system came on. What this meant was that when my wife and I leave town, our garden still thrives.
But what I really love is fruit. So in our little yard we planted four varieties of seedless grapes and a min-orchard of six dwarf trees. We ordered all of these bare-root from the famous Stark Bros. Nursery, a Missouri firm which was founded in 1816. Every transplanting was successful and most thrive beyond all expectations. But never have we had a lot of fruit on every single tree and vine until this year! There was no late freeze.
Our spring plantings have included several kinds of lettuce, spinach, kale, peas, beans, and radishes. Birds love to eat some of these…especially young lettuce and spinach plants. We found a way to limit their damage.
We bought sheets of diamond lath from Home Depot. Measuring 2 ½ feet by about 9 feet, they were just long enough to arch over our vegetables when they were cut in half. We just tucked them into the sides of the beds. I know that birds can still get in through the sides, BUT THEY DON'T. Not very much anyway. There must be something about all that shiny metal that scares them. The cost for a full sheet is less than five bucks--so the cost in the garden is about one dollar per running foot of protection. And of course they last almost indefinitely.
Tree Netting Problem Solved
Birds love fruit trees. This problem can be mitigated with bird netting. But one of the big problems with netting is getting it spread out on top of the trees. Once they reach a certain height, it becomes very difficult. Almost by accident I found a way to do this fairly easily: PVC pipe.
I had bought a bundle of 3/4 inch PVC pipe for another project and had plenty of it still left over. I taped two of the corners of the netting to two pieces of pipe and my wife and I spread the netting over these trees quite easily.
The pipe then solved another problem. I had been using notched boards to support branches that were heavily laden with fruit. But heavy winds always blew the branches out of the notches and even wrecked my peach tree one year. So I used more PVC pipe and fashioned supports with "horns" that were long enough to withstand any wind. I used them last year and they do work. No problems.
The grapes are another matter. I put up lots of bird netting last year and still ended up with no grapes. It turned out not to be birds at all, but raccoons! Raccoons in Nob Hill? You bet. I called around and ended up talking to NM Game & Fish. They came out with a trap which I baited with a peanut butter sandwich and set it on the block wall next to my grapevines. We caught a total of four raccoons! After every catch G&F came out and emptied the trap. They assured me that the animals were to be released in one of two areas: around Bernardo or in the Jemez.
Varieties I Have
Dwarf Fruit Trees:
• Apricot. Harglow: This is our best year for this tree.
• Peach. Intrepid: Very abundant producer. Hardy.
• Aprium: This interspecific fruit is more apricot than plum. I have never tasted one. We have always been out of town when they ripened, but my son says they were the most delicious plum he ever tasted. Stark Bros. no longer is the distributor for this patented variety. They bloom about a week later than the apricot. The picture of the branch with the tons of green fruit is our aprium tree.
• Plum. Earliblue Prune-Plum: Man, these taste great! This European plum is the same variety Costco sells. Fantastic taste. Late blooming.
• Pie Cherry. North Star: Heavy producer. They are pictured in the bottom tag banner.
• Sweet Cherry. Starkrimson: Lots of fruit! Delicious.
• Concord Seedless: Can't vouch for the taste as the raccoons got them all. They are supposed to have that great concord taste in a seedless variety.
• Reliance Seedless: This red grape is supposed to be a hardy and abundant producer. Our plant has not shown that much growth in the four years or so that we have had it.
• Marquis Seedless: This grape is fantastic. Great taste of a green grape, but seedless with a slip skin. Very robust grower! Shoots out rogue runners of ten to twenty feet! Tons of the best tasting green grapes I have ever had. Large fruit in large clusters. Newly formed clusters pictured at right.
• Thompson Seedless: Purchased locally as a potted plant. No observable difference between this potted and the bare root vines in terms of health or maturity. Vigorous grower. Lots of fruit but not as many as the Marquis. Famous Thompson taste.